The second topic on #ONL191 has been sharing and openness, and the kick-off was a presentation by Alastair Creelman and Kay Oddone. This has been followed up by various activities to explore advantages, disadvantages, levels and practicalities. My thoughts are this are not well-organized, and run into well-known linguistic issues – does open mean accessible or free, does free mean libre or gratis, etc. Still, here are some observations…
It is clear that there is a strong case that knowledge/education is a public good that should be freely (openly) available, both for the person searching for education, and for the society that they live in. However, education has historically required educators, and as resources are finite there is a strong and constant tension over how much education should be freely available. This tension has played out in different ways in every country.
Where then does open education sit? Even where higher education is free at the point of delivery, there are often other (academic) requirements that students must meet to be able to attend university. Open programmes that aim to remove these access limitations have existed for a very long time, one example is the Open University in the UK, founded in 1969, but many others exist.
The internet has removed a lot of resource restrictions, so that it is now easy to disseminate and access freely available structured information to learn about something new. This is great for auto-didacts – all you need is an internet connection, and you can learn anything. There are large repositories of open educational resources, e.g. at OER Commons. Although you will have to navigate various potholes that are not documented, as exist in every trade (although the patent exists, the recipe for original Polaroid film is lost).
However, not everybody is suited to completely self-driven learning, and even for those who are, human engagement is extremely valuable in the learning process. This is where some MOOC courses are pushing forward, as can be seen by briefly surveying the different options at MOOC course repositories like Class Central.
That means we run right back into the resource problem that we started with, although probably with a shift in the learner/teacher ratio. Some of these issues are discussed in a study of the effect of internet-drive course delivery on the resilience of higher education institutions by Weller and Andersen.
As more and more teachers make open course materials, eventually some sorting mechanisms will need to be applied, to identify the most useful methods and materials, to avoid potential learners getting lost in a maze of material. This is bound to be a fraught process, as we see in many articles online about the issues surrounding the algorithms used to manage content in Google, or Facebook, amongst others. Institutions provide some level of accreditation that helps with this. As with other networked spheres, there will be big winners and big losers.
However, this is not directly concerned with the issue of openness in my teaching. As indicated above, I think that having a lot of material freely available can be beneficial. What about from the student perspective? Here, I am less convinced that the learning process needs to (or should) be fully open. bell hooks urged for ‘Radical Openness‘, but for the teacher, and not necessarily the student. My instinctive reaction is that students need to have the opportunity to work out their thinking in private, or inside the classroom. Some of these questions are also touched on by Boudreau.